Vinaigrette is simply oil mixed with vinegar in a ratio of about three to one, seasoned with salt and pepper. There are many variations, but this is the basic sauce for greens and other salads. You needn’t dress your lettuce in couturier, but good-quality oil and vinegar are essential, like a well-cut suit becoming the person. The better the oil and vinegar, the less your salad requires.
Keep in mind the whole dish, the whole meal. Extra-virgin olive oil is the timeless classic, with varying colors and character, but nut oils— hazelnut oil, say, if a few hazelnuts are included with sliced apples— can subtly enhance it. Of the many styles of vinegar, try to choose one to suit the rest. Balsamic vinegar can be delicious in Italian salads, for
instance, but used everywhere its caramel flavor masks what it should feature. For a salad served with wine, lemon juice, perhaps with a touch of grainy Dijon mustard, can blend well in vinaigrette.
Acidity varies from one vinegar to another, so be sure to taste for balance and also your palate. As for seasoning with herbs and spices, you can add a little mustard, minced shallot, capers, fresh tarragon etc., but use restraint. Vinegars go in and out of fashion—think of the recent rage for raspberry-flavored vinegar. It’s still delicious in fruity salads,
but as with your wardrobe, take a close look and spruce up your kitchen cabinet as you do your clothes closet.
Be sure to serve your salad at room temperature, not cold from the refrigerator.
At the last minute before serving, check the vinaigrette for balance, perhaps adding a bit more acidity or salt, for instance. Shake it up well and drizzle it over, tossing to coat each leaf lightly and saving any left for the next day, so not to overdress. Your salad will be robed in sartorial splendor.
For the exquisite baby greens here:
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon red or white wine vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste